2007 was quite the tumultuous year for the city of Seattle. Howard Schultz and his ownership group had sold the Seattle Supersonics to an ownership group led by Clay Bennett that was based out of Oklahoma City the year prior, and that sale marked the beginning of the end of the Sonics in Seattle. Not only that, but they were coming off of a 31-51 record that had relegated them to the Northwest Division’s cellar, after having won the division outright two years prior. Despite 2 or 3 teams finishing with worse records, the Thunder got lucky and drew the second overall pick of the 2007 NBA Draft, after the Portland Trail Blazers were awarded the first. After the Blazers basically threw away their pick by selecting the always-injured Greg Oden (not to be confused with the always-injured Derrick Rose), the Sonics selected the true #1 prospect of the 2007 NBA Draft, 6’9″, 230 lb. Kevin Durant out of Texas.
As the 2007-2008 NBA Rookie of the Year, it was obvious from the very beginning that Durant was destined to accomplish a great deal in his NBA career. As the NBA’s scoring title holder for 4 of the past 5 years in his 7-year career, he has helped the Thunder to 4 consecutive Northwest Division Championships, as well as the 2012 NBA Western Conference Championship. It would have been an NBA Championship, but LeBron James and the Heat would not be denied that year. Seeing as this past year brought Durant his first NBA regular season MVP award, an NBA Championship is the one thing Durant has yet to accomplish at the NBA level. Most people, myself included, still feel that it’s simply a matter of time for him. The question at this point is: Can Kevin Durant win it all as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder, or will he have to leave town to finally see his dream of an NBA Championship realized?
That remains to be seen. As of now, I’ll break down where he is at this point to see if there are any areas he can work on to better ensure that his team not only makes it to the NBA’s final postseason game of the year, but wins it outright once they do.
Offensive Grade: A+
When you break a modern-day NBA record that was last held by the great Michael Jordan himself, I think it’s safe to say an A+ is the only thing I can give you. He easily has one of the most beautiful shooting strokes in the NBA today. Hands in his face? He’s hit game winners through those before. He’s not bothered by hands in his face. He averaged 32 points a game last season. Sure Durant hits slumps at times, but that happens to the best of players. When Durant gets hot. the term “red hot” is a major undersell. “White hot” does it much more justice.
Key for improvement – You’d think that there would be no way to improve on an A+. You’d be wrong. As silky as Durant’s shooting skills are, jump shooting teams do not win titles. A bit of aggression would help Durant immensely. A guy 6’9″ should be driving to the basket far more than he does. Considering that he’s the second-biggest superstar in the NBA behind LeBron James, you have to believe that referees would give him the benefit of the doubt more often than not, and award him frequent trips to the line. And that’s only if he doesn’t find a crease and slam it home outright.
Defensive Grade: C-
This is where Durant could really use some work. He can be okay when asked to guard someone without a whole lot of speed, but really struggles to keep up with players that can cut to the basket explosively and without warning. Plus, despite bulking to 240 lbs since he’s been drafted, he still gives up far too much weight when asked to play the 4 position and defend the low post. He just can’t hold his ground down there to save his life. And to top it all off, there’s something about a player’s mean streak that seems to help on defense in the NBA. If there’s one player that seems to lack a mean streak entirely, that would be Kevin Durant.
Key for improvement – Aggression would go a long way towards helping him at this end of the floor as well. Size would help in the low post, but seeing as he mostly plays the 3, size would actually hinder his speed at the offensive end, making him less explosive when cutting to the basket.
His work ethic and his commitment to the game are two things that will never come into question. If it came down to those two things, he’d easily receive an A+ in this category as well. He has one intangible that seems so shaky at times, it forced me to knock him out of the A category entirely. That intangible is his confidence. It’s obvious he has been rather reluctant to buy into his own hype. He has a personality so humble, that even though he has been made aware on countless occasions that he’s one of the best in the NBA today, he seems as though he doesn’t want the honor. A “nice guy persona” such as his may be fine for a role player on the team, but superstars in the NBA need to be willing to do whatever it takes to make it to the top. He can’t be afraid to step on a few toes along the way.
Key for improvement – There’s a reason Kendrick Perkins said that Durant may want to focus on his defense this offseason, but Perkins could probably give him a few pointers on the attitude you need to succeed as an NBA superstar as well. Because while Durant may lack aggression, Perkins practically personifies it. If Perkins doesn’t get dealt to the Miami Heat this offseason, I could not picture a better mentor to help one of Durant’s biggest areas of weakness.
Overall Grade: A
Whether you love him or hate him, LeBron James is easily the most complete player in the NBA at this point in time. He is the only player in the NBA I’d give an A+ to overall. But as far as the rest of the NBA goes, or maybe even the entire world is concerned, you will not find a player on any other roster that measures as closely to him as Kevin Durant. While Durant has his weaknesses, they’re easily overshadowed by just how dominant he is when he utilizes his strengths. One or two more times falling short will probably be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, and gives Durant the mean streak he needs to get over the hump. OKC Thunder fans are just hoping that happens while his area code is still 405.